Good afternoon Captain Awkward!
I have a friendship quandary.
My good friend Donna and I travel somewhat regularly for work and for fun. She and I are both cat owners and we have fallen into a routine where we take care of each other’s cats when one of us is out of town.
A couple weeks ago, my near-life-long dear friend Vivian invited me on a trip to come see her for a weekend in the early fall and she generously booked and paid for half the plane ticket. The other half I’m booking and paying for, and the exact timing of that is a little up in the air right now for job-related reasons.
When this trip came up in casual conversation between myself and Donna, Donna said that she had travel plans that same weekend. “Oh, cool. That’s a bummer you won’t be around to take care of my cat,” I said. I thought nothing of it.
The next day, I received a number of text messages from Donna telling me that she was extremely upset to find out that I had made other plans for that weekend and she won’t be able to “let this go” without saying something because evidently, I had agreed to take care of her cat that same weekend.
I had zero recollection of this and I told her so. I admitted that it was entirely plausible that she and I had a discussion about it and I forgot (my life has been on absolute fire this month, so a few things have fallen through the cracks). She then sent me a screen shot of a text exchange that happened between us several weeks ago where she inquired about my availability for the weekend in question. I replied that I “should be” available. And after my reply, she changed the subject. She said that’s the extent of the conversation on the matter and says that we did chat about it in person before I asked her to text me the dates in that conversation. (Seems like something I would ask her to do)
I apologized profusely and let her know that it was an oversight on my part and, for whatever reason, the cat sitting weekend didn’t make it onto my calendar or stick in my brain — perhaps because it felt tentative to me or perhaps because I was distracted by the giant flame pit of my personal life. And I went on to say that, even if it had made it into my calendar, we’d still find ourselves in this situation because I definitely want to go see Vivian that weekend and that’s the weekend that works for both my work schedule and Vivian’s — so Donna and I would be out our regular cat sitters regardless.
I told Donna that the main difference would be how I would have handled it which would have been to acknowledge Donna’s travel weekend and let Donna know immediately instead of two weeks after Vivian and I made our own plans (because I wouldn’t have forgotten). I apologized again and also reassured Donna that she and I still have plenty of lead time since our trips aren’t until the fall and I was confident we could find someone else or secure a spot to board our cats.
Donna wrote me back and said that she found my response both upsetting and disturbing. She said it was disturbing that we had different ideas of how firm these cat-sitting plans are. She said that it was deeply upsetting to her that I would even consider outright canceling in scenario where our plans were in fact firm and Vivian’s invitation came up because “plans are plans” and plans should only be cancelled if there was an emergency. She said further that she’s very concerned because now she has no one to take care of her cat, she has never boarded her cat before and doesn’t know how the cat would tolerate that, and the possibility of putting her cat in an unfamiliar environment gives her a lot of anxiety. She said that now, because of all this, she may not be able to go on her trip to see her dearest friends.
Donna asked me if I would consider changing my travel plans/re-booking my flight to coincide with her travel plans.
This felt excessive to me and I told her no (aside from the logistical nightmare that would be given the world of discount airfare). I told her I would be happy to help her find another cat sitter (especially seeing as she and I are in the same boat) or, if it came to it and she ended up needing to board her cat and there was some conflict where she and I were vying for the same booking, I would gladly cede it to her. I also said that it felt to me like emotions were running pretty high and I’d like to discuss her concerns more fully, but maybe at another time.
She didn’t really address these options and instead wanted me to a) define what “confirmation” is for me and explain why what we did wasn’t confirmation so we avoid an incident like this in the future and b) tell her as soon as I nail down my travel plans so that maybe we can work out something where I can take care of her cat half the time or before or after my trip if my trip is shorter than hers. I replied that follow-up helps me with confirmation and that I would get back to her on my travel plans.
Things are palpably hostile between us now, which sucks because I do consider her a very close friend and we have many mutual friends. Here’s the thing, Captain. When I think about “avoiding an incident like this in the future,” I think that I don’t want there to be a future cat sitting exchange anymore and I want to avoid this happening again by never doing this again. I don’t know why, I just feel suddenly done and I’d rather hire a sitter through the internet for my cat. I feel really bad about all of this. She seems more outraged than hurt and I feel myself shutting down about it. When I stretch and think about this, I could see why she might be mad that I totally spaced her travel plans.
And, yet, I am also out of fucks to give about it. Am I a jerk?
I think, for me, inquiring my about my availability isn’t quite the same as making plans, especially with no follow up. But even if it was, on my end, my assumption for her has always been that she is doing these cat-sits as a favor to me, free of charge, and always at our mutual convenience. So I get this wonderful service for free that some people have to pay for. I suppose I never thought these were ever 100% set-in-stone plans until we started approaching the window of time where it would be near impossible to find other accommodations because I don’t view Donna as beholden to me or my cat to provide a free service for us if it doesn’t 500% work for her.
And in the two weeks or so leading up to our departures, Donna and I have a little routine where we confirm that we each have one another’s house keys, have a travel itinerary, and so on. So even in a world where I completely blew it and stayed utterly silent about my own trip and she never once spoke of her trip ever again aside from that one text message, the situation would still be salvageable two weeks out — one way or another (and yes perhaps outrage would be in order at that point).
But we aren’t in that situation and if the current situation were reversed and more than two months before my trip, Donna forgot about my travel plans and spontaneously decided to take a trip to see her Vivian equivalent, I would tell her to go have fun and I would find another cat sitter. I get that she’s mad, but I guess it’s not that big of a deal to me. Annoying and inconsiderate of me, yes. “Disturbing” and deeply “upsetting” and “anxiety” provoking and unable to “let this go”? I feel almost manipulated by the intensity of those feelings.
I figure that when you have a dependent of any kind, you always have a plan B and that’s part of your plan A. For example, my mom hated hiring random sitters and always preferred to leave me with people she knew. But occasionally, a random sitter had to be hired because someone flaked/spaced/had a sudden conflict/etc. I just find Donna’s stance that there’s “no one else” not only implausible, but not very wise planning since I could just spontaneously combust one day and no longer be available to her and her cat anymore. Donna isn’t the only person who I could think of to call on to care for my cat.
As I said, things are very hostile. Donna is stonewalling me now. What do I actually owe Donna at this point? Is there more I should do? Scripts I should say?Why do I feel so “done” and over this when she’s clearly still very upset? Am I justified in no longer wanting to exchange cat-care with her? I am getting the strong vibe that this is a friendship-ending or friendship-permanently-altering thing that I have done…yet she still seems to want me to take care of her cat.
A Tail of Two Kitties
Hi Tail of Two Kitties,
The entire theme of this letter is “sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money.”
It’s inconvenient and annoying for Donna to have to find an alternate pet-sitting or boarding service, and I can understand being anxious about putting the cat in an unfamiliar situation or letting a stranger into her home, but she has months to figure it out. Schedules change! People sometimes have emergencies! You’re right to wonder, “well, what would you do if I couldn’t do it because something came up at the last minute?”
You’ve apologized for the scheduling mixup, you’ve done what you can to try to mitigate it, and you’re not gonna cancel your vacation because your friend doesn’t want to Google “how do I find a reliable pet sitter” or ask other people with cats what they do. So I’m not sure what you else you can really do from here. It’s shitty to plan on something and have it fall through, but if a good friend makes an honest mistake and does what they can to apologize and mitigate it, what is there to do except move forward as best you can? If this isn’t an ongoing sore spot in your relationship (where you’ve cancelled or gotten mixed up about plans a lot of times), then I agree that her reaction here is disproportionate.
In your shoes I’d be like “It’s been so great that we could trade cat-sitting all this time, but it seems like it causes way too much strife in our friendship when there’s a problem, so it’s clearly time to revisit whether we do this at all. I can’t commit to a schedule the way a professional sitter or vet that offers boarding can, and I know I’d rather just pay someone to sit for my cat than fight about it with you ever again. I hope you find something that works, if I come across something I’ll let you know, in the meantime here are your keys back, and let’s just hang out without worrying about this if we can.”
Then let her make the next moves. IF you come across a great cat-sitting solution share it with her, BUT ALSO do not take responsibility for finding a solution for her. Then wait and see if anything remains of the friendship. Probably nothing? But maybe something does with some time? I can’t tell you, it’s pretty much up to Donna.
I just had to let our regular cat sitter Miss Diane know that Beadie died when she texted me to see if we needed her at all this summer. She was so sad (and then I was so sad all over again) but I can highly recommend her services. For $20/day, she fed, petted, played with, loved up on and brushed the Bead for an hour each day, scooped the litter box, collected our mail, watered our plants, and sent regular photos/text updates. (Usually the updates were “She hissed at me the whole time but also followed me around until I brushed her”). I found her through an opera singer friend who goes out of town for long periods for gigs and didn’t want to saddle her roommates with cat care, and she is wonderful. Plenty of friends have helped me out with Beadie over the years, but after hiring Miss Diane I came home to a sleek, happy, and spoiled buddy instead of the world’s most pitiful and lonely creature. Chicago people, email me if you need her info (she does not have a website I can link to). Letter Writer, good luck finding someone who can do that for you!